tv Taiwan Outlook PBS September 5, 2013 8:00am-9:01am PDT
progress in social, economic and political arenas has been well documented. on today's program, we are delighted to have mr. klaus bardenhagen, a freelance foreign journalist stationed in taiwan, reporting on the events in taiwan. thank you for being our special guest. >> thank you. >> tell us a little bit about yourself, klaus. >> i'm a freelance journalist, and in germany i have been working as a tv reporter for a few years. one day i had the opportunity to come to taiwan. i am freelancing and taiwan -- in taiwan, which means i'm looking for interesting subjects that i can offer to german organizations and report on. if possible, it can also mean
i'm doing tv reports -- i am doing tv reports. >> you have been here for four and a half years. >> i came here in 2008, just in time for the presidential election. one year later, i decided i really wanted to move here. one day in my tv station in hamburg, i saw this note on the blackboard which was a fax sent by the taipei hamburg office which said, we are looking for foreign journalists to come to taiwan for three months on a scholarship. you can learn chinese and get to know taiwan. we basically pay the plane ticket for you. when i saw that, i was thinking, i have never been to asia before. my knowledge about taiwan was limited.
i never had played with the idea of starting to learn chinese. i thought, that is perfect. i can take three months off and come here. that is how it all started. >> how did you find the environment different from germany? in terms of doing stories, reporting, is it easy to find topics in taiwan, or is it easier back home? what are some of the topics you have been reporting from taiwan? >> the range of topics i'm covering is quite wide. i can't afford to be a specialist yet. i have to be a generalist. a lot of times, it is connected to politics and elections. then it can also be about culture.
it is so unique and interesting that it will interest german audiences. it can also be about, what are germans doing in taiwan? that is interesting for german audiences, seeing what some of us are doing here. at the beginning, it was easy for me to find topics because i stepped off the plane and i was in the middle of the presidential election campaign. in 2008, because the beijing olympics were coming up, and in china you had some trouble. the german media were interested in this. i could do a few reports from the ground describing the very passionate atmosphere in the election campaign. it was pretty different from germany. you don't have elections all the time in taiwan.
i'm always walking around,, try to keep my eyes and ears open and find out what is happening that i myself have to find interesting first. if i think it is interesting, i try to make it attractive to the editors and media people in germany too and convince them that they should let me do this story. >> since arriving here five years ago, what were some of the changes that you have seen in taiwan? what are some of the things that stay the same? >> one important change in the political arena is that my feeling was that a lot of the focus of political activity and what people are willing to hit the street for has shifted a bit further political parties -- from the political parties towards the ngo's and the civil sector.
i can already say that the environmental movement and the social rights movement has really become stronger. just look at the student movement against the media monopoly. those are all developments that were not like this in 2008 when i came here. at that time, it was about blue and green and the political parties. people have realized that that is not everything. if they want to stand up for what they think is important and make taiwan a better place, there are other areas as well -- >> that they should pay attention to. >> yes. >> is that also the situation in germany? are people more concerned about quality of life issues? >> in germany, the situation political wise is already -- >> more stable? >> yes.
when it leads to elections, people are not too worried about who is going to win because they say, based on our experiences, no matter who is in the government, in the end the politics will be pretty much the same. it is a disillusionment. in taiwan, the elections are more hotly contested. those who do hit the streets, they are more emotionally involved. in general, i think it is something you see in a lot of countries. not only developed countries like germany and taiwan. you also see it in china. people are starting to protest because of environmental issues. they feel like, my own life, my family's situation and quality of life is threatened. that's why i want to say i don't like this. it's not always about big politics.
>> speaking of politics, you must have noticed that since the change in 2008, there is somewhat of an easing of the tensions between the different caps -- camps regarding the relations with china. there seems to be a moderation towards the center. >> of course you have the feeling that there are not as many open tangents as there used to be. i only experienced the situation starting in march 2008. in may 2008, it was inaugurated. i can't really compare the situation before. i just know what the media reports at that time were, and try to make sense of that. it feels better to live in a place when there is not some kind of open threat. it feels better when i tell my family back home how i am doing,
and maybe they're not so worried. it's important to remind people when i'm reporting about the situation that the threat is not gone. what is happening on the other side, those missiles are still there. the government in beijing did not really move an inch from their core position. they still have the same position as before, but they are saying everything in a much nicer and more diplomatic way. >> given the fact that you have noticed that the civic society in taiwan is becoming more energized, what are some of the issues you have been picking up is becoming more important for the people of taiwan? >> the ecology and environment issue. taiwan had this very impressive economic success story. the quality of life around us came because people and
investors and companies worked hard for it. on this way, environmental issues were somehow not so important. people focused on making money and economic growth, and they succeeded. now they are realizing -- we have a great polity of life in taiwan, comparable to europe. they started maybe 10, 15 years ago to look out the window. the equality was not so good. the traffic situation was horrible. the rivers were dirty. they started doing something. that started more than 10 years ago. people told me about what life in taipei was like, it sounds like it is from another planet. telling about how dirty the air
was, and all of that. the riverside was like a big waste dump. people started to change. they started to change in the immediate surroundings, and now it is about looking at the whole country and saying, where do we have those patches of land that we still think are worth keeping like they are, preserving? about two years ago, there was a huge story, the plans to build a chemical factory. all those plans were ready. basically just waiting for the government's approval. so many people started to say no and make their voices heard that they actually changed something. the plans were abandoned. that did not happen before so often. that was an important development. >> landmark event, yes. we need to take the first break
>> will come back to the second segment of the database program -- welcome back to the second segment of today's program. we will continue our conversation with mr. klaus bardenhagen, freelance journalist from germany covering events in taiwan. in addition to your daytime job, you have written a number of books about taiwan, one of which is called " taiwan: snapshots of democracy." >> this was a project that
developed that when i realized in my time in taiwan, i had met a lot of people and took many photos and told a lot of stories. i thought, it will be a shame if i don't put these things to more use. i discovered the way of publishing books on the print on demand basis, which means i don't have to print thousands of those. the first one i wrote was in german, which was about the everyday life in taiwan from a german point of view. it was supposed to make people understand what life here feels like. after that i thought, let's try to do something in english and chinese. maybe i can reach some other people, people i don't reach through my german media. i did this immediately after the
2012 presidential election because i thought from 2008 until 2012, it was exactly the time between the two elections i witnessed. i tried to tell about some of the important developments that i have witnessed here, and with the aim of may be reaching people who are not living in taiwan, and telling americans or canadians who are still interested in what is going on in their home country. maybe they want to show it to their children or just look at the pictures. maybe they have not followed everything. that was the aim of the snapshot. >> what about the third one? >> it is also in german. "this is taiwan." this is also for a german audience, explaining why taiwan
matters. why should i care about taiwan, explaining to them the political and historical background and talking about the german policy towards taiwan, which is so -- very much framed by the one china policy. for example, the leading politicians are not allowed to enter the european union, not even on a tourist visa. there are some all editions in -- politicians in germany who are trying to change this. i interviewed them. that is something i'm not really proud of when i think of my own government. >> let's go back to that book on the snapshots of democracy in action.
this is covering the two presidential elections from 2008 until 2012. you were just arriving in taiwan when the 2008 election happened. you were here for the most part of the 2012 election. what was some of the differences, klaus, that you discovered between the two elections? >> the 2008 election, back then most people were already pretty sure about how it would turn out. it was not really that much of a close race people -- race. people were saying there would be a last-minute swing. the media is always looking for an angle to make a story like this. it was not really that contested. no one was really surprised. four years later, the situation was different because according
to the surveys and polls, it would just be a closer race. you had a different kind of candidate on the other side, not like one of the elderly man from the old establishment. at that time, it felt to me and the other foreign journalists -- it felt like it is more open this time. that also influences the stories you tell about the elections. >> given the fact that you covered both presidential elections, do you think the issues that are considered important have changed from 2008 until 2012? are people concerned about the relations with china, or more concerned about the environment, economy? >> in 2008, politics was the
center, apart from the corruption. four yeares l -- years later, the government had the chance to implement its china policy. at the same time, today's and eight -- 2008 until 2009, there was the global crisis. in the years after that, people started to worry about their personal financial situation. how secure are their jobs, are their children going to find jobs? how about the wages, are they ever going to go up? can we afford the way of life that we got used to, and how are we going to position our country for this changing world? those subjects laid a bigger role in the 2012 elections. >> klaus, what were the kinds of
reactions you have been receiving from people? whether it is on the economy, the lifestyle in taiwan, what were some of the questions or feedback or comments you have been getting? >> people say, it is really nice to have this information all in one place. there is not a lot of knowledge about taiwan in germany. you have travel guidebooks. you can buy some academic books on taiwan's history. they're apparently not so many other books that try to condense it in a readable and understandable and maybe a little under -- entertaining way. the feedback from germans who live in taiwan or used to live in taiwan, they say, this makes a great present.
people always ask me about taiwan and i don't know how to answer them. i can give them this book, and maybe they will understand it better. >> you have been there for five years now. we see how society is changing. somewhat of a combined perspective between being a foreign journalist, and a resident of taiwan -- what do you think in that combined perspective? what are the likely, important issues as taiwan continues to develop clinically? -- politically? next year there are elections. a lot of people think that is a prelude or early test of what is going to happen in 2016. what is likely to be important in those elections? >> from a democracy point of
view, it is important that taiwan is a young democracy. it also has an impressive level of maturity as well. the next step might be that people in taiwan learn to cooperate more with each other. if you want to have a normal, stable democracy, you will always have the situation of changes in government. every party will have to accept the fact that from time to time, it is going to be in the opposition. what are you going to do then? are you going to try to undermine everything that the government is doing at that time, or are you trying to play a constructive part? you're also in some responsibility position to do something for the country, not just to stop things from
happening. i know that the political parties in taiwan have a lot of problems with each other for historical reasons. the people, especially the younger people who are going to step up and take over, i really wish that they will find a way to cooperate more with each other and not acting against each other. >> would you think that the relations with china will continue to be a dominant issue when we have island-wide i'm sure it will always be one of the central issues. taiwan is always a central issue to china and the government in beijing. whenever there is an election or change in government or policy here, beijing will always feel affected by this and they will
react one way or the other. you can't ignore it. you have to anticipate that, and react to it. taiwanese politics, without taking regard of the chinese factor [indiscernible] >> looking at what happened in germany, in the days when the country was split into east and west -- you are too young to remember that. [laughter] right before the german unification, there were similarities in germany at that time to compare to the situation in taiwan? i'm not suggesting that taiwan will unify with china. the issue regarding the relations with the biggest neighbor you have, was that a dominant issue in germany at that time? >> i still remember in the
beginning of 1989, there were protests in east germany. we actually do have relatives in east germany. i visited them with my mother at that time. my mother's family had fled east germany. she told those relatives, go on and stand up for what you think is right. if you go on like this, in 10 years, the wall might fall down. it did not even last 10 months, and it still happened. i think this just shows you that sometimes history is moving in giant leaps. you cannot predict this area -- this. the situation of divided germany
>> we will continue our conversation with klaus bardenhagen. what were some of the reasons for you to select the topics that were included in this book? >> this time i wanted to take more the subject of why taiwan matters, not so much the daily life and everyday experiences. for example, i started by writing a historical part about taiwan from the time when the aboriginals lived here and no one else. the dutch came, the spanish came, who threw them out and when china took over. normally this is something everyone knows a little bit about, but if they really want to know what happened, they have
to look at these big history read. -- they don't really like to read -- that they don't really like to read r. i talk about taiwan and its diplomatic allies. the republic of china and its allies. there are only 23 left. how did that come about? republic of china used to be a permanent member of the un security council. what happened that we're in this situation now? which step led to which next step? i try to make the story understandable. the most important, pertinent information. >> i didn't want to run the danger of the book becoming too dry and too focused on politics and history.
i was also thinking, what are some interesting subjects i could cover that also will help people to understand taiwan better. there was a very interesting story in germany. over the last year, tt became a craze -- bubble tea became a craze in germany. they were combined with sushi and turkish fast food restaurants. everyone was going crazy over bubble tea. but then it all went downhill. and what were the reasons for that? the market was oversaturated. it could not survive. but there was also a weird reaction in the german media.
at first they were like, it is exciting. but then the media -- in the summer we don't have important stories, so they start making things up. all of a sudden they started to say, this bubble tea is not healthy. little children can choke on the bubbles, and maybe they will die. some doctor said that you have to be careful, and scientists say, we found something, some stuff in the bubble tea that was unhealthy or poisonous. in the end, it was not true. it was a very strange media politics campaign at that time. every german and taiwan -- in taiwan immediately notices this chain selling china oil.
it is a product made in germany. some taiwanese businessmen had a great idea and are selling it here in taiwan. how can you sell china oil made in germany to taiwanese, for very high prices -- that is an interesting story. i met him, and he introduced me to his company. every german walking around taipei will notice this, notice these shops and not really know what to make of them. explain this to them, make them understand. >> okay. other than the controversy last year surrounding the bubble tea, if you look at the bilateral relations between germany and taiwan, a lot of things are
happening. there is a lot of activities going on. we look at the number of mercedes-benz and bmw's in taiwan. there's a lot of business opportunity here. in your personal opinion, what is your assessment of the bilateral relations? >> relations between taiwan and germany are pretty well- developed. germany has three official or semi-official offices in taiwan. the political office, the economic office, the cultural office. they all operate independently from each other and have their own events and networks. there is a lot happening here. if you come. -- compare it to what the german trade offices are doing in china and shanghai and beijing,
there's even more people there, of course, doing more business than here in taiwan. but what do you want to do? it's a huge market. taiwan-german trade relations have grown over a lot of decades . germans are exporting high- quality machinery. taiwan has moved away from being the supplier of cheap goods, also focused more on high-tech and pewter industry -- computer industry. i'm not an expert for economics, but i think moving in this direction, high-value added products, new technologies, that is a good way for taiwan to move
to. it can always compete with the cheap labor elsewhere. >> given the fact that there has already been a very mature and solid foundation for the bilateral relations between germany and taiwan, when you write such a book, "this is ta iwan," was it difficult or easy for you to convince the german readers of your book that taiwan is important? >> everyone has to decide for himself. i can't force anyone to buy this book. i really tried to try out a new way of financing it. i said, this is not a book that has been published by a traditional publishing company. this is print on demand. >> so far, it has been pretty
good? >> when i decided i wanted to do this, i had a so-called crowd funding campaign. i went on a crowd funding platform, one specifically for german journalists. i said, this is my idea. i have been living in taiwan for four years. this is the book i want to write. if you like the idea, you can pre-order a copy now. you can say yes, i want to support this project. it's not like giving money away. in the end, you will have a book in your hand. it's like a pre-order. i selected a threshold, an amount of money i tried to collect this way. i reached enough people who were interested in this before i even started writing that i knew, if i start writing now, it has
already paid off in a way. i know the number of people who are going to read this, and it gives me positive pressure because i know those deeper -- people already paid for it. i had better start writing it, or i will get into trouble. [laughter] a lot of journalists in germany are worried about the development of the media landscape. laying off people. freelance journalists in germany are looking for new ways to finance their work, and that might be one way. >> you probably already thought about this, but do you plan in the future to write a book introducing to the people of taiwan about germany, the people here would like to know more about your home country?
>> that is interesting. it might have been at the back of my head. that would be a whole bunch of new problems. translation, finding a publishing company in taiwan, focusing on what to write on. the longer i stay in taiwan, maybe we'll become more mature. -- it will become more mature. other journalists have already written a book or maybe planning on it. if taiwanese want to find out more about germany, there is already possibilities. >> hopefully you will do that sometime down the line, maybe not right away. we need to take the final break on the program and we will be
>> welcome back to the final part of today's program on the "taiwan outlook." we will continue and try to wrap up this fascinating conversation with klaus bardenhagen, who is currently a freelance journalist covering events, activities in taiwan. we understand that relations between china and taiwan in the last five years has gone through a metamorphosis. a lot of changes and progress. given the fact that there has also been huge improvement in the private sector, people to people relations, especially in reference to chinese students
that are now studying in taiwan at the various higher education institutions, and based on your interviews with an contact with these chinese students, what was the impression that you came away with -- and contact with these chinese students, what was the impression that you came away with? >> it is always better when people talk to each other and beat each other, on a general level, then when they are isolated from each other -- meet each other, on a general level, than when they are isolated from each other. there should be a debate. that is normal. generally, it is always better when people have a chance to get to know each other. i did one report about chinese students studying at the university in taipei.
i interviewed them. they were a little careful about what to tell me. we agreed not to use the names, to protect them. they were still little careful, like how much do we want to tell this foreign guy? in the end, you could tell that they were seeing things with their own eyes and coming to their own conclusions, not rehashing something they had learned at school before or from some official or teacher. they were not suddenly enthusiastic about taiwan, but they knew what it was like and they started making comparisons. even if you have tourists coming to taiwan, maybe if nine out of
10 go back and they did not change their impression, really, but one saw something that is making them think and he is telling other friends, taiwan has a chance to influence mainland china's perception of taiwan. >> have you had the opportunity, meeting and interviewing some taiwanese business people who have invested in china? what was their impression of china today as compared to 10 or 15 or 20 years ago when they first went to china? >> i did not have this opportunity yet, because i don't focus on economic issues that much. it might be that i try to get in touch with them one day. >> klaus, the relationship
between germany and taiwan is very solid, as we discussed. economics, trade, investment, education. given the fact that the relationship is solid, and germany is very important to taiwan in more than one sense, we are bound to have interest in taiwan at the general level to understand more about your home country. would you like to play a role -- not right away, as we said -- but down the line, playing the role of goodwill ambassador, maybe introducing germany in a very easy, understandable and comprehensive way to the people of taiwan? >> in a certain way, i'm already playing this role. whenever i meet people in taiwan and talk to them and they learn
that i'm from germany, to them at that moment i am representing germany and i'm the best way for them to get to know more about germany. i'm pretty much aware that it is also a responsibility. it can be funny sometimes. what is the taiwanese attitude towards germany is a good question. just like the other way around, germany is very far away from the taiwanese point of view, and one of a lot of countries in europe. just like from the german point of view, taiwan is one of those little countries in asia. many taiwanese people have not been to germany or europe. they have general impressions. like you said, before i came to taiwan taiwan. people will mention german cars. maybe football, and then food.
as soon as taiwanese people here germany, if they don't say [indiscernible] it was so funny for me, because i'm from northern germany, and it's not my traditional dish at all. i had not eaten it in my whole life. i ate it for the first time in taiwan. >> then you can explain to people, tell that to people and tell them, germany is big enough so we have some regional differences in food too. from there you can say, what is going on in hamburg, what is the mentality of the people, and so on. >> given the fact that there are so many things in -- that people in taiwan want to know about
germany, do you think there should be some initiatives between the private sectors, and maybe other than trade shows, maybe film festivals, food festivals, cultural activities like music and other things -- do you think that should be the area that a lot of people look at as possibilities in the future? >> something is always happening in this respect. in 2009, the taipei film festival had a special german film section. there are singers and theater companies coming over. if you're looking for a sector to really expand on, it should be people to people exchange. we have had the working holiday visa agreement for some years. young people from both sides can visit for three or six months,
and don't need to worry too much about the visa. that's very good. i'm not sure how many german people make use of that. my guess is that more taiwanese people go to germany than the other way around. and also, to think of internships for university students. if you have engineering students in taiwan or business students in germany, i think they would be interested in spending some time in the other country. also, high school students as well. i met 16-year-old, 17-year-old students who come to taiwan and they pick up chinese so quickly. it made me very envious. the more people have a chance to do this, the more it will help. >> let's talk a little bit about your taiwan experience. you have been here for almost five years now.
how has your stay in taiwan changed your life and your perspective on things and your global view? >> it sounds a bit like a cliché. it has broadened my horizons. but it has, and there's no way to deny it. professionally, the experience of working as a journalist in a completely different environment , on different types of stories and working in a different way. privately, getting to know the people better and better and really understanding better and better what is going on. of course there are downsides. you can't see your family all that often. your old friends back in germany, you must make sure not t lose contact with them. i don't know, will i be going back one day, when, and what i will be doing then.
it really mixed up my life pretty much, but i don't regret it. at that time when i was making this decision, i want to come back and try it and move there and try it out -- if i had not done it away, i think it would've deeply regretted it. >> finally, if i were to ask you to describe your taiwan experience so far in one phrase, what would it be? it might be difficult in one phrase. >> taiwan is completely different from what ever general impressions you might have in your mind. you have to go there and see for yourself. >> it has been a pleasure to have you on the program. we want to wish you the best in your personal and professional endeavors in the future. >> thank you very much. >> thank you for watching our program today. we will see you next time.